A slice of life, arguing with
Ph.D.s about Indiana Jones
By R.M. Monk
April 24, 2009 | So there I was, a lowly undergrad
at an academic conference in New Orleans, presenting
with Ph.D.s on a gender and media studies panel. All
I could think was, "Don't screw this up."
I had somehow wangled my way into the 2009 joint conference
of the National Popular Culture and American Culture
Associations, and further wangled USU into footing the
bill for airfare. It was meant to be a vacation in New
Orleans. A real spring break to make up for the paltry
one we were given in March -- honestly, how can you
call it a spring break when there's still snow on the
ground? But none of that mattered now, all I had to
do was get through a day of schmoozing academics at
this conference, talk big like I know a thing or two,
and I'd be home free in a city with loose liquor laws.
It felt good not to be in Utah.
I presented what I thought was a decent paper on gender
stereotypes in family action films, arguing that we
allow male heroes to be tougher than their female counterparts.
You know, like how we don't mind watching Indiana Jones
take a punch, but our society has trouble watching Lara
Croft get mangled. We simply don't let PG-13 heroines
handle "real action."
After showing a handful of clips that got a smidgen
of applause, I ended my spiel noting that the DVD box
of the Lara Croft movie advertises her as a
"Superhero?" I said. "She doesn't have any superpowers.
Her male counterpart Indiana Jones isn't thought to
be a superhero. What message does it send when a woman
plays a straightforward hero in an action film, we give
her a fantastical label like ‘superhero'?"
It wasn't the crux of my paper, but I thought I was
a good point.
I ended, got an enthusiastic ovation of golf claps
mixed with people coughing—typical of an academic audience—and
sat down to join the rest of the panel.
The panel chair was up next. She read from her seat
about depictions of female DJs in cinema. How they're
misrepresented as being incompetent with the station
equipment, and how real-life female station managers
catch a lot of flak from their male co-workers, who
assume them incompetent as well.
It was good stuff, but all I was thinking about was
the blonde from San Francisco I met last night, and
was it too soon to call her? She had given me her phone
number when all I asked her for was her e-mail address.
Suddenly, the panel was over. We scheduled 30 minutes
to take questions from the audience, mostly grad students
Would I seem desperate if I called after only one
"But Indiana Jones is a superhero."
What? Oh, a question directed at me from the audience.
Not a question, a statement, from a woman who wasn't
the blonde from San Francisco.
It finally hit me what she said, and I resisted countering
her argument with a "Nuh-uh," knowing full well a Ph.D.
could come back with "Yeah-huh."
"Indiana Jones doesn't have superpowers," I said,
thinking that was the end.
"But Batman doesn't have superpowers, and he's considered
a superhero," she said.
"Batman lives in a universe with other super-powered
people, and he has a costume."
"Jones interacts with superpowered things all the
time, like the Arc of the Covenant, and he has a costume."
"The Arc of the Covenant is of more of a deus ex machina
than a character he interacts with. And his costume
is a hat and a leather jacket, normal things. People
don't dress up in bat suits. Well, normal people don't."
"I'm going to table this conversation," said the panel
chair after our squabble of Jones' superheroness went
on for another ten minutes.
"We have other questions from the audience to get
to," the chair said, "the gentleman in the back had
"Actually, I was happy watching that play out," he